Needed: Blue-Collar Horse Sense

The article in The Washington Post filled me with hope: There’s a trend toward college-educated people getting into the trades.

One 29-year-old fellow in Washington, D.C. — he has a degree from Notre Dame — considered going to law school, like many others in the lawyer-saturated town.

After watching his friends work long hours as paralegals — and watching his lawyer pals sign their lives over to their firms — he did something sensible.

He became an electrician’s apprentice.

He’s not alone. The Post says more 20-somethings are forgoing the white-collar world to become plumbers, electricians, mechanics and carpenters.

I think it’s great.

This country was designed by people who worked with their hands.

Ben Franklin started off as a printer’s apprentice, a messy job. His trade helped him master communication, business management, politics and human nature.

George Washington, a farmer, toiled in his gardens to cross-breed the perfect plant. He was forever trying new ways to cultivate and harvest his crops.

Many of our Founders were farmers. They were humbled by the unforgiving realities of nature.

Hands-on labor made these fellows sensible and innovative. Their good sense is evident in the practicality of the Constitution.

We have lost touch with such common sense.

The shift happened over many years, of course. Industrialization moved Americans to the cities and, gradually, to paper-pushing jobs in the service industry.

Now we’re a country of white-collar snobs with an underdeveloped understanding of how things work.

The snobbery starts in high school. Parents and guidance counselors both point kids toward college and white-collar careers — they save the blue-collar careers for the kids whose grades aren’t so hot.

It makes no sense.

A skilled laborer earns more than many lawyers do — and likely enjoys his work more. Show me a dozen lawyers and I’ll show you 11 people who have considered driving a cab for a living.

Skilled laborers are good for our country — white-collar folks are not always so good.

Consider an important white-collar maxim: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle then with BS.”

I’ve seen highly skilled BSers establish long careers without producing anything of any value.

Blue-collar workers cannot BS their way through their work.

An electrician mixes up the hot wire and ground wire only once.

A carpenter is kept honest by his level — he measures twice, cuts once.

A plumber’s skill is evident when the water valve is opened and the pipes don’t leak.

Blue-collar workers have no choice but to develop horse sense — to develop efficient ways to solve real problems.

There was a time in America when many white-collar jobs were also infused with horse sense. An employee started as a bank teller right out of high school. He’d work his way up, through performance and sound judgment, to the highest levels of the organization.

Now any old Ivy League graduate can become an investment banker and put his company, and country, at incredible risk as he pursues a multmillion-dollar commission.

I hope more college-educated folks leave the white-collar world to become skilled laborers.

I hope we stop glamorizing careers on Wall Street, the legal profession and many other paper-pushing businesses.

I hope more people use their hands to produce something of value every day — and use their practical, decision-making abilities to help resolve other challenges we face.

If we don’t get a serious infusion of blue-collar horse sense, God help this country.

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  • Kathryn

    Starts in High School? Ha! Try jr. high, maybe sooner.

    It is not too likely my husband will be able to get me my Big Kitchen. My first DS on the other hand? If I play his education cards right, he could end up with some very shiny pennies indeed, and DH and I am all set in our retirement years.

    DS is at a local “trades” camp this week. Yesterday they built a shed. Today they are welding. He’s having a blast. Alas that doesn’t get me out of trying to contact an electrician to change a canned light in my kitchen, one with some strange wiring to it that neither my DH or I are comfortable trying to change. Ever try to get in a contractor for small stuff?

    The only problem I see with the the blue collars is their penchant for joining unions.

  • jkerekes

    Amen!

    Also—domestic arts are not given much value these days. Teach your children to cook, do some basic sewing, gardening, cleaning, budgeting, etc. Not only are these common sense things to do–they are family activities. I’ve met so many 30ish/40ish people that have NO IDEA how to make simple foods like banana bread, chicken stew, homemade bread, etc. They also don’t know how to fix a ripped seam, patch a hole, etc. These are all very valuable skills that are not being taught at home.

    It’s time to get back to basics. There is lots of room for higher education, but let us not forget who we are.

  • Christi Derr

    I couldn’t agree more! It is true, also, that plumbers, mechanics, electricians etc are jobs that can’t be sent overseas like so many others can.

    I once read a wonderful article about college students who “interned” at farms as day laborers and then in the evenings learned all about running a farm from the owners – brilliant!

  • http://prairiehawk.me PrairieHawk

    My Grandmother, a farmer’s wife who raised 9 kids, could have run this country with more common-sense than our current ruling class.

    I always feel sorry for people who don’t have the farm in their background.

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  • jmtfh

    I actually met a young gal in NYC last yr who lived and worked in the financial district in NYC–Wall Street. She was so tired of the rat race she had applied to go work on an organic farm in Central America as an unpaid intern!

    In the generation of the post WWII and the Baby Boomer generation a good education meant a better job. No longer. In many great plains states (where I recently lived) kids with 1 or 2 yr technical degrees or apprenticeship can start out at the power plants at $30+ per hour and they are making money long before kids in school are, plus they don’t start out with $75,000 in school loans!!!

    My 1st two kids both have Masters’ degrees (one of them also has a terminal degree). One is making $12/hr and the other is self employed and works 60-80 hrs week to pay her bills and still waits tables on the weekend!

    That said, I lost my job in the building industry 6 months ago–carpenters and electricians are feeling the squeeze this time around too.

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